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Creating a temporary exhibition: My experience as a placement student at Culture Syndicates

An image of a book shop with books stacked high.

Creating a temporary exhibition: My experience as a placement student at Culture Syndicates

An image of a book shop with books stacked high.

Culture Syndicates’ Temporary Exhibition Service allows heritage and arts venues to borrow existing exhibitions and share their own, offering a cost-effective, convenient way to display collections. As part of my placement at Culture Syndicates, I created an exhibition for this service on how ways of displaying and producing texts have changed over the centuries. In this post, I’m going to explain the process of creating an exhibition.Medieval manuscript. A paragraph of text surrounded by colourful illustrations, including a man, a pelican, a crest and a thistle pattern on the edges of the page.

A novel history

Did you know that medieval manuscripts were so valuable that their owners would write curses in them and chain them to walls, in order to protect them from thieves? Or that of the top ten best-selling books ever in the United Kingdom, seven are from the Harry Potter series? Neither did I, until I started conducting research for this exhibition. From the replacement of scrolls by books, to the invention of the printing press, to the use of steam-powered technology in the Industrial Revolution, improvements to publishing processes have enabled more people to access the wealth of ideas and experiences that written texts contain. While you might argue that written texts have found their perfect form in the modern-day paperback book, this process of evolution continues, with audiobooks and eBooks gaining increasing popularity. Whilst researching, it was fascinating to learn more about how book and publishing technology has changed over time and continues to change, and how significantly these changes have affected the societies in which they occurred.

An exhibition panel with the title books through time. A paragraph of text, an image of book spines and a circle of text which reads 'what is your favourite book?'Creating the exhibition

After completing my research, I had the task of turning my lengthy pages of notes into passages of text for the exhibition panels. From reading guidelines about exhibition text, I learnt that these passages of text should be short. The average viewer will not be willing to spend lots of time looking at an exhibition panel and will not want to be bombarded with information. In a few words, my text had to do a lot; it had to convey a broad overview of changes to book and publishing technology, whilst containing enough specific facts to be engaging and interesting. It had to be well organised, with a clear structure, and easy to understand, without obscure references and overly technical vocabulary. Perhaps most importantly, it had to be about people. While the focus of the exhibition is on books as material objects, my writing had to convey a sense of the human stories linked to these objects. This writing process required lots of planning, editing and rewriting. It helped me to develop my creativity with language and my ability to be concise and succinct, skills which will be highly useful for future work in the heritage sector.

Adding the finishing touches

The final task was to display the text in templates designed for the Temporary Exhibition Service, and to find pictures to accompany the text. I had to learn how to use digital software in order to do this, developing new computer skills in the process.

My experience and the future

Creating an exhibition for the Temporary Exhibition Service was thought-provoking and enjoyable. The process enabled me to learn more about the interesting and varied history of books, and to develop new skills that will be highly useful for a career in the heritage sector.

To find out more about the Temporary Exhibitions Service (TES) and our other available exhibitions, see our TES page: http://bit.ly/2EtVwhR 

By Katherine Hayhurst, third year English student at the University of Nottingham

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